Lenten Service 4
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Luke 23:32-34 Sermon
March 15 & 22, 2017

Click here for service internet broadcast/podcast.

Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal & With One Voice):
TLH 158 "Glory Be To Jesus"
TLH 143 "O Dearest Jesus"
TLH 390 "Drawn To The Cross Which Thou Hast Blest"
WOV 728 "O Light Whose Splendor Thrills & Gladdens"


TEXT: “Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with [Jesus].  And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, 'Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.' And they cast lots to divide his garments."

            The other day I was reading through a list of objections a person had to Biblical Christianity.  I'll point out right away that this person no longer has these objections, but he did have them at one time.  There were eleven bullet points in all; however, I'll give you just two of them that pertain to the topic at hand.

            Here's the first one I'll share:  "There's only so many ways a person can say 'Jesus died for your sins' before it becomes repetitive and monotonous."  And the second one I'll share:  "It's good to have a sermon not based on Scripture. I remember how I stopped attending chapel services...because I found them so boring; and for a short while went to...[the] church down the street.  One of the first sermons I heard there was based on the book Charlotte's Web, comparing us to Wilbur the pig and Jesus to Charlotte.  At the time I remember it felt like a breath of fresh air, something I could relate to much better."

            I want to look at that first objection I shared with you:  "There's only so many ways a person can say 'Jesus died for your sins' before it becomes repetitive and monotonous."  And I think that can happen. 

            We can rattle those words over and over again to the point where they might lose their impact.  After all, it's a fact that we all know.  Jesus died for our sins.  He died for the sins of the world.  Every time we gather at the Lord's Table for Holy Communion, the Apostle Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians, chapter 11, verse 28:  "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes."  The Lord's death becomes very real for us in the Sacrament of the Altar, and we affirm that fact every time we take Communion.

            But what exactly does that mean to us?  Let's add a little more to that phrase:  "Jesus longs to forgive you; therefore, Jesus died for your sins."  Does that sound better?  Does that make sense?  Does that mean more to you than just some monotonous phrase that gets repeated over and over again?

            Jesus dying on the cross is a statement of fact.  Even an atheist can say that.  But what makes it special to us is the "why" part of the picture.  Your forgiveness and mine is the reason behind what Jesus did.  Jesus longs to forgive us because he loves us.  It's his love for us that took him to the cross to suffer and die the death that we by our sins deserve.  And by rising again from the dead, we have a very real hope for the future.

            One of the things that give us a real sense of stability is the unchanging nature of Jesus.  Hebrews chapter 13 verse 8 says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”   So he is always loving, always gracious, and always forgiving.  This is something that I find so incredible is that grace is both constant and abundant.  Jesus isn't more gracious one day and then less than gracious the next, forgiving one day and resentful the next.  No, the one whose mercies are new every morning IS grace unending! . . . even as they crucified him.

            With Jesus, nothing changes.  Usually when criminals were crucified, they cursed and cussed a blue streak, and then they would begin begging for mercy until their voices gave out.  But not the one hanging in the middle! There were no curses, no cussing, and no begging and groveling for mercy.  Instead, he confidently prayed to his Father.  And what does he pray for?  Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing. Jesus’ grace does not change!  Even with nails in his hands, mercy is on his mind!

            Father, FORGIVE them.”  Amidst everything else, Jesus prays for forgiveness, for his enemies no less.  But really that shouldn’t surprise us, because Jesus has a pretty good track record of forgiving people!  In Luke chapter 3 verse 3, we read that John the Baptist came preaching a baptism of repentance for the FORGIVENESS OF SINS.   So when Jesus himself came, the forgiving of sin continued.  To a paralyzed man on a mat, Jesus proclaimed the man’s sins entirely forgiven, and sent him home carrying his mat and leaping for joy.  A while after this, Jesus handed over the very keys to his kingdom to his disciples.  They were able to loose sin and to forgive sin in his name.  Jesus embedded the forgiveness of sins in his disciples’ memory when he taught them to pray, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  

            Then after his resurrection before he ascended again into heaven; Jesus commissioned his disciples.  He reminds them in Luke chapter 24 verse 47 that “repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”

            Forgiveness was Jesus’ mission.  Forgiveness is Jesus’ commission.  Forgiveness was accomplished on the cross.  Not surprisingly, then, Jesus began his time upon the cross with a word of forgiveness.

            Father forgive them.  Okay, who is the "them" to which Jesus is referring?  We immediately think of the Roman soldiers who did their duty by driving spikes into Jesus’ flesh.  For them, it was just another day, another denarius in the life of a Roman soldier.  For Jesus, they were men in desperate need of God’s forgiveness.  They needed forgiveness not only for taking Jesus’ life but also for their entire lives.

            But the "Father, forgive THEM" was not only for those Roman soldiers.  Jesus also prays for forgiveness for the religious leaders who plotted and planned that dreadful day.  Jesus’ forgiveness reached out to Pontius Pilate, who tried his best to wash Jesus’ blood off his hands.  Jesus’ forgiveness extended to the men who beat him, whipped him, spit on him, struck him on the head, and mocked him with thorny crown and purple robe.  Jesus’ forgiveness extended to all those people inJerusalem, both to those who loved him, and to those who shouted "Crucify him!"

            In fact, it extends even further.  Irrespective of whether a person is a Jew or Gentile, man or woman, rich or poor, believer or a current unbeliever, those words ring out:  "Father, forgive THEM!"  In short, "forgive THEM" is a forgiveness as narrow as the soldier holding the hammer, and as wide as the whole world!  Remember those familiar words of John 3:16:  “For God so loved the WORLD that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

            It makes sense to us that God loves Mother Theresa and apple pie and grandma and grandpa; yes, God blessAmerica!  Of course God loves all good churchgoing folks.  And it goes without saying that God adores the good people like all of us here in church tonight!  Oh my, how God loves us!  But that isn’t what Jesus said.  Jesus said that God so loved the WORLD.  You remember the world don’t you?  How are things going these days in the world that God so loved?

            Pick up a newspaper or turn on the TV news.  There's so much going on in our world!  Just think of those people who rear their ugly heads every day.  You'll see the likes of murderers and rapists, predators and pill poppers, butchers of people and destroyers of life and liberty.  And God loves them?  From Eve’s apple to the present, the world has been heading to hell in a hand basket in ever more ingenious ways.  And God loves people like that?  How can that be?

            But here is the rub.  The rapists and terrorists of the world that we read and hear about are not sitting in these pews right now or standing in this pulpit.  You are sitting there.  I am standing here.  Father, forgive them.  Jesus, forgive ME!  Yes, me with the mouth that sings “How sweet the name of Jesus sounds,” and then turns around and is filled with hateful and spiteful words toward my neighbor.  God loves me?  Me with the hands that are supposed to always be eager to help, help themselves instead.  My hands that have left my brothers and sisters standing alone with their needs unnoticed and their hurts unattended.  Can God really love me?  Me, with the heart that daily turns away from him and runs from one idol to the next.  Will God continue to love me? Here I am, with the eyes that are daily filled with the world’s filth, with nary a wink on my part.  God loves ME?

            Yes, me. Yes, you.  The night before his death, Jesus told his disciples in John chapter 15, verse 13: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  Christ’s death makes enemies into friends, sinners into saints, and you and me into sons and daughters through faith alone.

            I'm going to go back to that first objection I gave you at the beginning:  "There's only so many ways a person can say 'Jesus died for your sins' before it becomes repetitive and monotonous."  If we lose sight of the purpose behind Jesus' death, then it can become just a monotonous repetition of historical fact.  But saying that Jesus loves you and longs to forgive you brings it down to a personal level that we can appreciate each and every day.

            So let's look now at the second objection I gave you at the beginning: "It's good to have a sermon not based on Scripture. I remember how I stopped attending chapel services...because I found them so boring; and for a short while went to...[the] church down the street.  One of the first sermons I heard there was based on the book Charlotte's Web, comparing us to Wilbur the pig and Jesus to Charlotte.  At the time I remember it felt like a breath of fresh air, something I could relate to much better."

            A secular novel can be entertaining reading, and I have no problem with literature.  However, an English literature class and a church worship service are two entirely different things.  How could the love of Jesus and the forgiveness of the Gospel that reaches your soul and changes your life be found in a story about Wilbur the pig and Charlotte?  If I would have opened my sermon tonight by reading a chapter from this book instead of the Bible, what would you have thought? 

            In sermons, I will frequently use metaphors and illustrations.  Jesus himself did that.  But a metaphor or illustration isn't the message either.  It's the words of the Bible that plainly tell us that Jesus loves us and longs to forgive us.  That's what we really need, and that's the assurance God gives us through the inspired pens of the prophets, apostles, and evangelists. 

            So let's look at the good news of the Gospel.  There is no sin we commit that Jesus’ sacrifice does not remit.  There is no guilt that we bear that Jesus’ cross does not lift.  There is no past that Jesus did not die to forgive and forget.  His nakedness is our robe of righteousness.  His outstretched arms are our protection.  His prayer for forgiveness is our peace.  The flood of his blood washed away the scarlet of our sin.  Our father Adam stretched out his hands to take the forbidden fruit that brought death.  Our brother Jesus stretched out his hands upon the cross and brings us life.  

            So what do we learn from all this?  Christ’s sacrifice for the sin of the world is the foundation of the Christian faith.  It is the key truth that empowers genuine repentance.  Some, when they feel their sin, turn to their good works in an effort to do something good to make up for something bad.   

            Turn to Jesus; he longs to forgive you! His enemies nailed his helping hands and beautiful feet to the cross. But they didn’t touch his tongue. And with that tongue he proclaims pure forgiveness for the world, which includes the likes of you and me.

            Turn to Jesus, the man in the middle between two criminals. There he suffered and died for you as one numbered among sinners.  He is the middleman between you and the Father.  The apostle John writes in his first epistle, chapter 2, verses 1-2:  “But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”

            Indeed there are those who look at the words "Jesus died for your sins" as monotonous, or trite, or hackneyed.  But when we look at the Bible, we see the love and mercy and grace behind that historical fact.  We see Jesus who longs to forgive us.

            I'm going to close this evening with the words of an old Gospel hymn that is a favorite of many people:

            "I love to tell the story, 'tis pleasant to repeat; what seems each time I tell it, more wonderfully sweet.  I love to tell the story, for some have never heard, the message of salvation, from God's own holy Word....I love to tell the story, for those who know it best, seem hungering and thirsting to hear it like the rest.  And when, in scenes of glory, I sing the new, new song, 'twill be the old, old story, that I have loved so long."

            So turn, in faith, to Jesus; he longs to forgive you!  Don't turn to yourself or anything else of this world.  Turn to Jesus.  Always Jesus.  Only Jesus.